Consciousness – Somatic Control – Neurosomatic Interactions

by pre., Friday, September 4th, 2009.

No doubt you’ll have heard the word psychosomatic, a word mostly used to describe physical illnesses brought about by the psyche. Depression resulting in persistent infection, hysteria resulting in blindness, constant stress or fear resulting in physical symptoms.

The word is, of course, constructed from two parts: Psycho and Somatic. “Soma” from the ancient Greek σῶμα or sōma, meaning ‘body’, and “Psycho” the ancient Greek ψυχή or psychē/soul

The world has many negative connotations which the Transcendence Institute would like to avoid. In popular misconception it brings to mind weak minds, delicate and effete bodies which are so sickly and shaky that even a mere thought can upset them. It’s associated with illness more than health, despite the fact that the Placebo Effect is surely the other side of that same coin. The prefix ‘psycho-‘ brings to mind mental illness and emphasises a blatant dualism which is unfortunate for modern understanding which rejects the idea of a consciousness separate to a body.

Instead, the Transcendence Institute uses the word ‘neurosomatic‘ to describe the phenomena. This word more accurately conveys the impression that neurosomatic effects are not spooky or strange, but are the normal physical workings of a brain and body functioning as they should. It doesn’t invoke images of a non-physical ‘mind’ having physical effects on the body. It isn’t associated so obviously with illness, a weak constitution or psychology, and it isn’t prejudiced by any magical understanding of it as being connected with the ‘spirit world’ or magical healing.

The Neurosomatic Interactions

First the ‘neuro‘ part. Your brain is made out of neurons. At least the active part is. The rest seems to be mostly scaffold to hold the neurons in place which has little direct effect on brain function. We’ve already talked in some detail about how neurons send signals to each other through the release of small messenger chemicals known as ‘neurotransmitters’. How the neurons themselves adapt and change as a result of the usage they’re put to. This is how your brain works. It’s a neural device. The ‘mind,’ whatever that may be, is built out of neurons interacting.

Then the ‘somatic’ part. Body. All also made of cells of course, granddaughter cells of the fertilised ovum that you grew from. Here we’re thinking specifically of the The Endocrine System, The Autonomic Nervous System, The Immune System, even the way individual fat, muscle and blood cells respond to signals sent through the Endocrine System. In general all the parts of you that aren’t your brain.

Nerosomatic interactions then, are those interactions between the brain and the rest of the body.

Brain

Your brain contains a structure called The Limbic System. It appears to help regulate and respond to emotional mood, smells, and long term memory (among, no doubt, many other things). Connections come into the Limbic system from all over the brain, especially the frontal-cortex (higher reasoning) and the sensor cells in the nose, while it’s output connections lead mostly into the Hypothalamus.

The Hypothalamus in turn sends it’s outputs mostly to the Pineal gland and other hormone-releasing systems. These systems release messenger molecules known as ‘hormones’, which are similar to the neurotransmitters that signal between neurons. Hormone molecules though travel not the fraction of a millimetre from one synapse to another, but through the blood stream to permeate the whole body.

That is: Your brain as a whole, including the pre-frontal cortex — the seat of reason — can send signals which alter the balance of hormones in your blood.

Body

The ‘Endocrine System‘ which we mentioned earlier is just the fancy sciency way of referring to the mass confusion of hormones which permeate the blood and which affect the way the cells in the body are regulated and behave. Hormones produced by the brain can change the hormones which other glands in the body produce. Hormones all over the body change the way cells divide, the way they metabolise, the way the behave.

Of course, hormones can effect the brain back in turn. There are many neurons in the brain who’s firing action is altered by the presence or absence of any of the wide varieties of hormones in your blood system.

Example Pathway

The hormone adrenaline effects the body in many ways. It attaches to heart cells and they respond by beating faster. It attaches to muscle and brain cells and excites them, causes them to burn more oxygen. It slows, even prevents, digestion. It widens the pupils of the eyes. It changes the way the liver works and so increases the amount of sugar in the blood.

All these effects on the body are driven by the hormone adrenaline which is produced primarily by the adrenal gland near the kidney. That adrenal gland in turn pumps out more adrenaline when the pituitary gland in the brain produces more of the hormone which signals it to do so. The immune system slows down, devoting energy instead to other systems in the body.

This system works brilliantly. When an animal is in stress or danger, it’s body is prepared for a fight, or to flee, generally to struggle for life. When it’s not in danger it can relax, reduce the supply of Adrenaline and all those effects are reversed.

Problems

Now, for a moment, imagine that your brain was trained to always signal a high-alert stressed state. Worry or pressure from work keeps signalling the pituitary to signal the adrenal gland to produce more and more adrenaline. Your body is always working harder than normal. Your immune system is always suppressed. You begin to suffer from stress related infections and conditions.

This is the kind of mechanism which we mean when we talk of neurosomatic interactions. The placebo effect isn’t well understood, but it surely works by convincing the brain to modulate the supply of hormones and other signals to the rest of the body. Cursing someone with voodoo similarly works by convincing the brain to change the flow of hormones through the Endocrine System. If you worry yourself to death, this is the mechanics of how you’ll do it.

Next week we’ll talk about ways to use this effect to encourage your immune system. Then we’ll ponder on ways to signal others to do the same, as an alternative healer may do to heal their patients. Finally we’ll present a guided lucid dream designed to encourage you to learn to regulate your endocrine system, to use symbolism and ritual direct your body to heal itself.

Consciousness – Somatic Control – Placebo

by pre., Friday, September 11th, 2009.

Two hundred patients walk into a doctors surgery, each with the same condition. One hundred of them are given no treatment. The other half of them are assured this is a simple problem and given a pill to sort it out. A week later, about 30 more of the second group are feeling better, compared to the first group.

What was this miracle pill?

Nothing at all. Sugar. Chalk. It doesn’t matter.

This is known as the Placebo Effect, and it makes it damned hard to tell if medical treatments actually work or not because anything you try at all seems to work sometimes for some people. Even things we know shouldn’t have any effect at all.

Weird

Take a moment to think about how strange this is. An inert sugar pill, if prescribed as a muscle relaxant will make muscles relax. If prescribed as a pill to increase muscle tension, it’ll do that instead. If the patient is told the pill will make them hungry, it will make them hungry. If they’re told it’ll suppress their appetite, it’ll do that instead. If told it’ll increase pain, sure enough pain will increase. If told it’s an effective anesthetic, it’ll reduce pain instead. You can even get people drunk off of placebo alcohol.

The power of the placebo effect can be increased just by changing a patient’s expectation: a big red sugar pill works better than a small blue one. Capsules work better than tablets. More expensive treatments work better than cheaper treatments. Injections, even when injecting nothing at all work better than the pills do.

How can this be?

Clearly suggestion, expectation and perception are important factors in the placebo effect. It would seem that the Neurosomantic interactions discussed last week are the key to understanding the effect.

This rough understanding of the placebo effect begs the question: how can we use the placebo effect in our day to day life?

Activating The Placebo Effect

The simplest way would seem to be to seek treatment, and have some quack alternative medicine doctor convince you that their sham medicine works, then take that. Indeed, this is the route chosen by the Health Service: once actual medicine gives up, ‘alternative‘ medicine takes over. Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, hypnosis and all the rest. These treatments are, in general, no better than a placebo. But it’s practitioners believe in it, so aren’t lying when they sell it to you.

This simplest way may, however, be expensive, unavailable, or unconvincing to anyone who can read a scientific study.

Is there anything you can do to try and increase somatic control, to increase your own conscious control over your immune system, over the placebo effect, without having to use self-deception, lies and make believe?

Belief

The key, of course, is to generate expectation, belief.

You know that when you fantasize, visualize, conjour up an image in your head, your brain approximates, to some extent, the same state that brain falls into when the things visualized are actually happening.

So it would seem a reasonable bet that you can increase your somatic control and so improve your health by visualizing and dreaming that you have increased your somatic control, and so your health. If you can see this strongly enough, if you can believe it, you should be able to activate a placebo response in yourself.

This month’s meditation

When we introduce this month’s meditation in a couple of weeks, we’ll try interrupting a lucid dream to encourage you to dream that you’re becoming stronger, more powerful, to see yourself altering, improving and fixing your immune system, your body, your health. You’ll think about the ways your brain can effect your endocrine system, releasing healing hormones, energizing your immune system, building muscle, reducing fat, generally becoming more fit and healthy.

The longer you can lie asleep, dreaming of healing all sickness, the more chance there is that the placebo effect will be triggered to actually bring you more healing, the more chance you’ll learn to control the placebo effect in yourself.

Nocebo

As well as healing, the placebo effect can be used to sicken. This anti-placebo effect, also known as nocebo, is powerful indeed. It’s thought to be behind much voodoo magic, curses and the like. If you can convince someone they’re going to get sick and die, that may be enough for them to feel ill, stop eating, even have a heart failure. Dangerous stuff.

Knowing this, we know how to avoid falling for such curses: don’t believe them. Nobody can force you to sicken just by telling you to, unless you cooperate by believing it. Scepticism and doubt can save you from voodoo magic!

Consciousness – Somatic Control – Other People

by pre., Friday, September 18th, 2009.

Last week we discussed the placebo effect, and saw how mere belief that you are being treated can improve your chances of recovery from an illness, likely by causing your brain to stimulate the appropriate glands to release hormones to control the immune system.

Alternative medicine providers from witch doctors and shamen through to herbalists and homeopaths use this mechanism, usually unwittingly, to help other people. That is to say, their actions produce a change in the workings of the immune system of people who aren’t even themselves.

In fact, they do a better job of it than the person they treat was doing on their own.

Don’t let’s get carried away here though. They only do a bit of a better job. Pretty much all of their treatments are no better than a properly administered sham alternative. Only some people are helped, only some of the time. Pain and otherwise subjectively measured things are influenced more than more concrete objective measures. Nobody has ever regrown an amputated limb through a placebo treatment.

But still, given those limits, placebo-treatment results are impressive. Certainly it’s useful to be able to understand how they work and be in a position to produce some these effects in your friends.

Prediction, Anticipation, Suggestion

It’s interesting to note that one of the major placebo effects can be produced by classical conditioning. If you, for example, give a patient an injection of opiates each day, the level of endorphins in their brains increase as a result of the drug. After you have done this for a while, if you secretly replace the opiate with plain saline solution, the level of endorphins still increases.

The key here is that opiate injections don’t directly cause an increase in endorphin levels in your brain. The opiates latch onto cell receptors, which cause reactions in the cells, which cause other molecular neurotransmitters to be released, which cause yet more cells to react. A complex cascade of action and reaction flows through the brain until it eventually reaches the cells which release the endorphins.

Of course, many of the major ‘inputs’ to this process come directly from feedback loops within the brain itself. In fact most neurons aren’t sense neurons, aren’t even directly connected to sense neurons. Most of the circuits in your brain are connected only to other brain circuits.

This sets up your brain perfectly to fall for a self fulfilling prophecy. Since your neurons are constantly trying to predict the future, and they are all linked in a big spaghetti pile of feedback loops, the very expectation of some signal, the anticipation of it can bring that signal about.

So when the sham opiate injection is administered, many of the neural cells in this jumbled mess of connections are receiving similar inputs to the half dozen times in which they received this injection before. It looks the same, you’re in the same place, the same time of day, the same mood, you feel that same pin-prick, the flow of liquid through the syringe, a huge number of the signals to the neurons of your brain are near-as-damnit the same as during the genuine injection. Is it any wonder that the cells at the end of this chain, those that actually release the endorphins, end up behaving in the same way?

Belief, then, can cause the brain to act differently. If you believe you’re likely to feel less pain, your pain-sensing circuits will likely act accordingly. If you think you’ll start to feel healthier, you are more likely to do so. If you believe your immune system will gain a boost, it may well find an increase in the production of white cells. If you believe your T-Cells will concentrate in a particular area of your body, that they may be more efficiently directed to the site of an injury, then exactly the appropriate signals can be produced by your brain.

Others

The key, then, to using these effects to help others, to help them feel relaxed, happy, pain-free, fill their mind with endorphins, is to generate the expectation and belief that this is exactly what will happen.

Alternative medical practitioners generally do this through a complicated story about the origins of their art, the supposed mechanisms of the effects of the treatment, through making a patient feel comfortable and relaxed, giving them care and lots of attention. Convincing them that someone is helping.

The more the practitioner can make the patient anticipate and predict that they will feel better, that their immune system will help them get better, the more healthy they are likely to feel.

Modern medical ethics forbids outright lying to a patient. A doctor can’t prescribe a sugar pill and claim it’s a miraculous cure that will stop your symptoms forever within a week. However a homeopath suffers no such restriction, if only because they, in general, swallow their own line. The practitioners themselves believe their art is real, which makes their act for the patients real, reinforcing the sense that something is being done, the patient’s prediction that they will get better, or at the very least feel better.

Likewise, making up weird stories about chi energy or chakra points or water memory or the healing power of crystals isn’t likely to be helpful when coming from a skeptic.

This story though, the true story of how the placebo effect works through expectation and suggestion and through attempting to put your brain into a state in which it will found a self-fulfilling-prophecy, this story can be explained. It can empower someone to take control of their own treatment.

Inducing Expectation

How do you put a person’s brain into a state in which it predicts getting better? By having them imagine what it would be like to feel better. Encourage them to visualize it strongly, to see it in their minds, to feel it in their body. The longer, and more powerfully, you can encourage someone to pretend to feel better, the more their brain will expect to feel better.

Furthermore, this can be done whether you explain how it works or not. Just by encouraging someone to fantasize about being healthy, about achieving their goals, you can help that happen through the power of Placebo. Explaining how this is supposed to help, explaining the truth of the treatment, won’t alter it’s effect on the subject’s prediction at all.

The Meditation

In the guided lucid dream presented next week you’ll spend time using this placebo effect, the power of generating expectation, to generate the expectation that you’ll use that power more.

You’ll dream what it is like to feel fitter, stronger, more energetic and happier. You’ll dream what it’s like to encourage others to spend time imagining the same, training your mind to help improve your own health and well-being, and the health and well-being of those around you.

Consciousness – Somatic Control – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, September 25th, 2009.

This week we present a guided meditation, a guided lucid dream really, designed to improve your control over your health and well-being. You will use your dreams to push your body towards a more healthy, energetic and fit state.

You will learn to intuitively understand the neuro-somatic connection between mind and body, to understand how the connection works, and to begin to manipulate it at will to reduce pain, boost your immune system and feel more alive.

You will also dream about putting others, those people around you, into happy, healthy states of mind, encouraging their expectation that they’ll feel well and so improving the placebo effect in them too.

Warning

If you are sick then go to a doctor. Neuro-somatic control can do no more than your own immune system can do. It is not as effective as modern antibiotics. It’s not as effective as blood transfusions and dialysis machines and keyhole surgical operations and chemotherapy and radiotherepy and laser surgery.

Modern science has extended the average lifetime by nearly twice as much as before the development of proper health care, where millennia of placebo medicine helped little. If you feel unwell go and see a doctor, take his or her advice, any medicine they hand out, and then meditate after you get back.

A transcended person isn’t one that needs no medicine, or can rely on herself. She’s one who knows when to seek help, and takes whatever help she can get. Including all the range of things modern science and medicine can provide.

The Meditation

As with all the meditations during this lap, this week’s meditation is designed to be started ten minutes or so before you have to awaken. It starts slowly and quietly, gradually bringing you into the realization that you’re dreaming, that you can control your dream.

For the next few minutes you’ll dream that you are fitter, stronger, more powerful, healthier. This will help your brain state to move towards these moods, these feelings.

You’ll dream that you can control your immune system directly, seeing each step in the chain of causation as your mere thoughts and expectations effect the control of disease and ill heath in your body, pushing out infection and affliction, encouraging growth and health.

You’ll dream that you can see the effects of those thoughts, the changes to your endocrine system, the hormones released on demand by glands stimulated by the neruons of your mind, energizing your immune system, building muscle, reducing fat, generally becoming more fit and healthy.

You’ll dream that you influence others around you, learning to reassure and comfort them, activating their own neuro-somatic processes, positively affecting the health and wellbeing of those around you.

The meditation also, of course, includes many suggestions that you’ll also practice these skills, this visualization, during wakefulness. Learning to control the neruo-somatic interface.

Download The Meditation:

Guided Meditation File 20 – Consciousness – Somatic Control
Backing Music “Intemporal” By Sbut
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